PHL remains a priority country for US aid due to honest transparent government

August 31, 2012 12:57 am 

MANILA, Aug. 30 -– While it’s hard nowadays to get foreign assistance approval from the United States congress, the Philippines remains a priority country for American aid because of a transparent and honest government under President Benigno S. Aquino III, said Washington’s top envoy to Manila.

“I think one of the most important things that I have seen and has helped us continue to assist the Philippines is President Aquino's fight against corruption,” said US Ambassador Harry Thomas at a forum hosted by the Makati Business Club on Wednesday.

“It's very hard for us to get foreign assistance these days but the fact that we have been able to go back to our congress and say we have an honest, transparent government has assisted us and that is why our aid budget has not been cut where others have been cut,” he said.

In fact, US assistance to the Philippines even increased, the envoy noted.

The US has bankrolled the road project in Samar province amounting to $ 422 million and is also providing assistance to the modernization program of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to improve the agency’s tax collection, Thomas said.

Even the number of American peace corps volunteers in the country has doubled under Aquino’s term at over 230, the largest humanitarian deployment by the US in the world.

Corruption has long been a major problem in the Philippines and blamed for contributing to a poverty problem that affects more than a fourth of 90 plus million Filipinos.

Impressed by Aquino’s anti-corruption reforms, Thomas said the US government will continue supporting the Philippines.

Aquino, the son of pro-democracy champions Corazon Aquino and ex-Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., won with a landslide victory in the 2010 presidential elections on a promise to fight pervasive corruption and widespread poverty.

Since he took over the presidency two years ago, his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has been placed in hospital detention for alleged vote rigging and is facing trial before a regional trial court.

His allies in Congress also impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona for failing to declare his assets as required of top government officials. Corona was removed as the country’s chief magistrate by the Philippine Senate last May 29. The Aquino administration has accused Corona of blocking Arroyo’s prosecution.

Thomas traveled to Palawan on Thursday to turn over new facilities and equipment designed to enhance maritime law enforcement and interception capabilities.

The items donated by the US to the Philippine National Police include two sophisticated police patrol boats, two boat-towing heavy-duty pick-up trucks, and an outstation in Balabac.

US assistance to the PNP, particularly its Special Boat Unit (SBU), has resulted to more than 200 arrests at sea and seizure of 17 vessels and a variety of contraband amounting to over $ 1.1 million.

Arrests have been related to crimes such as illegal fishing, harvesting of protected environmental products and animals, cigarette smuggling, petroleum smuggling, and possession of illegal drugs and weapons.

The PNP unit has also evacuated more than 160 people during emergencies and rescued more than 50 people, including victims of human trafficking.

“These accomplishments are an important reminder to me of why we continue to invest in the PNP Special Boat Unit to fight transnational crime, combat the scourge of human trafficking, save lives and protect the environment,” Thomas said.

In the coming months, Thomas said total amount of assistance provided by the US government to the SBU will reach $ 9 million or more than P380 million with the donation of additional six patrol boats with accompanying spare engines and other parts, construction of new SBU facilities in Palawan and Mindanao, and provision of other operational equipment.

“This partnership has greatly increased the capabilities of the Philippine authorities to confront longstanding transnational organized criminal activity,” Thomas said. (PNA)

FPV/MDC/UTB

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